Thursday, December 5, 2013

City of Fear

I've briefly mentioned the movie City of Fear a couple of times before, generally in cnojunction with other movies that are on the Columbia film noir collection, Volume II. However, recent events in the news make it worth finally doing a full-length post about.

Vince Edwards plays Vince Ryker, a prisoner at California's San Quentin prison. Or, more accurately, he's an escaped convict from San Quentin, as he breaks out at the beginning of the film, showing no compunction about bumping people off to get out and keep from having to go back in. As part of the escape, Ryker winds up with a thermos flask-sized container that he believes to be filled with heroin from the prison infirmary, which would presumably have been converted into methadone or something. But, in fact, it's not heroin, or any sort of drug he could sell on the streets at all! It's cobalt-60, a radioactive isotope which in real life, as the news aticle points out, is used in various medical devices and radiotherapy. Now, you'd think such a container would be labeled as being radioactive and highly dangerous, but dammit it isn't. So Vince, thinking he's hit the motherlode of drugs, heads off with the cobalt-60 towards Los Angeles.

Needless to say, the authorities are none too pleased with this. As with The Killer That Stalked New York, they know they've got a potentially dangerous situation on their hands, but they don't want to panic the city. Besides, they're also looking for a fugitive, and if they're too public, they'll tip him off and allow him to make an escape. In reality, the guy would probably just die of radiation poisoning, which is not a nice way to go, but as long as the container is properly shielded, the radiation contamination to the general environment shouldn't be too bad. At least, not bad enough to blow up the city, which is what the authorities here seem to imply.

Ultimately, we get a movie that's half police procedural, and half criminal study of the Vince Ryker character. What I don't think it really is is a noir. There's a class of movies that I like to think of as "post-noirs": movies that were made after the traditional noir cycle, and in brighter locations, but with a fair amount of the hard-boiled sensibility of traditional noirs. Those are all things that City of Fear has quite a bit of. It's got some plot holes too, being a briefer B movie, but it's quite entertaining nonetheless.

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